Friday, October 19, 2018

Veronica Safranski: Missing Since October 27, 1996

Veronica Safranski was last seen leaving a Halloween party in Warren, Marshall County, MN on October 26th, 1996. The victim was wearing an American Indian costume at the time of her disappearance. She has not been seen or heard from since.








Name: Veronica Lynn Safranski 
Date of Birth: 03/13/1956 
Sex: Female 
Race: White 
Height: 5’3” 
Weight: 105 
Hair Color: Blonde 
Eye Color: Blue 
Date Missing: 10/27/1996 
Missing From: Warren, MN

Details of Disappearance:

Safranski attended a Halloween costume party with a friend at Mick's Bar and Grill in Warren, Minnesota on October 26, 1996. A photo of the restaurant is posted below this case summary. Safranski's friend was unable to locate her inside the establishment at approximately 12:30 a.m. Witnesses told authorities that Safranski and Kevin Skjerven were seen together around the same time. They departed from the restaurant in his black 1997 Dodge Power Wagon pickup truck with Oregon license plates. Safranski has never been heard from again.

Safranski was reported as a missing person later during the day. In late 1996, a belt believed to be part of her costume was found along a country road half a mile south of the crossing of Marshall County roads 8 and 6. An extensive search of the area failed to produce additional evidence as to her whereabouts.

Investigators said that Skjerven has a history of sexual assault convictions. He admitted that he departed from Mick's Bar and Grill with Safranski, but claimed that he did not know what happened to her afterwards. Skjerven has never been charged in connection with her disappearance. He was released from prison on unrelated charges in 2002.

Authorities said that there are many wooded areas in Marshall County where Safranski's remains could be easily concealed. Her body has never been located. Safranski resided in Argyle, Minnesota at the time of her disappearance. Her case remains unsolved.
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Hunters asked to watch for missing woman
by Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
November 7, 2002


Hundreds of deer hunters will walk the woods and fields of northern Minnesota in the next two weeks. The Marshall County sheriff is asking hunters to help search for a woman who's been missing for six years. At a time when some missing people make instant news, the sheriff is trying to rekindle interest in this cold case. It's a challenging case for local investigators. They have a suspect, but no evidence of a crime.

Moorhead, Minn. — It was a few days before Halloween in 1996. Veronica Safranski, 41, was with friends at a Warren, Minnesota bar. She walked out with a man, leaving her coat and purse behind. She never returned.

A month later, investigators found a piece of her Halloween costume along a county road. Ground and air searches came up empty.

Don and Bernice Lenhart still search remote areas of Marshall County, hoping to find their daughter's body.

"We have no idea what happened," says Bernice. "We don't know anything. All we know is she's missing."

"We're still praying and hoping," says Don. "That's all we can do now."

"Maybe by accident somebody will run across her. Something could happen," says Bernice.

The Lenharts say they need to know what happened to their daughter.

Marshall County Deputy Mike Johnson is lead investigator on the case. He has a theory, but little else.

Veronica Safranski was last seen leaving the bar with a man -- a man with a history of convictions for sexual assault. The man told investigators he left the bar with Safranski, but doesn't know what happened to her.

About 12 hours passed before Veronica was reported missing, according to Johnson.

"Marshall County is a rural county, lots of farming, lots of abandoned farmsteads. There's just a variety of places that -- if someone needed to hide someone -- they could," says Johnson. "It's just a very big area to cover."

Without a body, Johnson says there's little hope of prosecuting a suspect.

The sheriff's department has organized several searches in hopes of finding a body. Psychics have offered help. But all that's been found is a belt from Safranski's Pocahontas Halloween costume.

There's a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. The investigation has followed thousands of leads, according to Sheriff Herb Maurstad. The conclusion is always the same.

"We go right back to the last person that was with Voni. And that's the person we need to focus on," says Maurstad. "We can't make people talk to us. We can ask them to do that, but we can't make them talk to us."

The suspect was recently released from prison. He was serving time for being a convicted felon in possession of a gun.

Sheriff Maurstad wants to solve the case to bring justice to the family of Veronica Safranski. He also fears it's only a matter of time before the suspect assaults another woman.

"Somebody's missing here. Somebody may have lost their life. In fact, we're quite sure somebody did lose their life," says Maurstad. "And that's what we're here for -- to bring those people to justice, and hopefully prevent other people from losing their lives. So it is frustrating. You think about it all the time."

The sheriff believes the six-year-old case can be solved. Investigators need a lucky break, he says. Like a hunter stumbling across some sign of the missing woman.
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VERONICA SAFRANSKI CASE: A decade later . . .

By Ryan Bakken, Herald Staff Writer
Published Wednesday, October 25, 2006


When Veronica Safranski disappeared 10 years ago, her four children were never identified by name in news accounts. In an effort to protect them, they were simply identified by their ages - 11, 13, 16 and 21.

Now, as adults and with the 10th anniversary of her disappearance looming Friday, they are eager to be recognized - and heard. Rather than observe the remembrance privately, they want to tell their story.

Angie, Melanie, Lisa and Dustin want to be heard for several reasons, the main one being the chance that the attention will lead to solving the mystery. They hope someone will come forward with new information.

Retiring sheriff says failure to solve case is greatest regret
“Maybe someone will see that these children are still hurting because of a decision they made not to speak up about something they knew,” said Angie Pence, the oldest sibling. “Like the saying goes, it takes just one pebble to move a mountain.

“There is no way a woman falls off the face of the earth, and no one knows anything.”

Disappeared into the night... 

The 40-year-old Argyle, Minn., woman known as “Voni” did fall off the face of the earth in the early hours of Oct. 27, 1996. Dressed in a Pocahontas costume from a Halloween party she attended earlier, she was last seen at Mick's Bar in neighboring Warren.

Leaving her coat and purse behind, she departed the bar shortly after midnight with Kevin Skjerven. Safranski was separated from her husband at the time.

Skjerven, who had two prior convictions for sex crimes and had served time in prison, was identified by the Marshall County Sheriff's Department as the prime suspect. The belt from the Pocahontas costume was found three miles from Skjerven's home in rural Newfolden.

Skjerven served more prison time after Safranski's disappearance. The ensuing investigation discovered that he had purchased a firearm, which was forbidden because he was a convicted felon. But he was never charged in her disappearance.

The children believe Skjerven is to blame. “We know, with his criminal history, that he is a bad guy,” Angie said.

Several searches were conducted, including one five years after the disappearance. A psychic, who had helped Kansas law enforcement officials find several bodies, said Voni's body was buried somewhere in Old Mill State Park, located between Warren and Newfolden. But the costume's belt was the only trace.

Ten years ago was a more innocent time, before searches for Dru Sjodin, Grand Forks, and Julie Holmquist, of Hallock, Minn., turned up corpses. When she was about 8 years old, Angie remembers a conversation with her mother that became “the irony of my life.”

Angie was frightened while watching a television show about a search for a missing girl, prompting her mother to comfort her. “She said that I would never, ever have to worry about something like that happening around here,” Angie said. “Things like that didn't happen in small, warm towns.”

Searching for truth... 

The siblings still feel pain from not knowing their mother's fate.

“We have no closure,” Lisa said. “It's different when you see someone in a coffin and can put them to rest. At least you have a place to go visit her.”

In addition to the unanswered questions, Melanie said there's another difficulty. “You can't put your anger to rest.”

Angie also craves the truth, but sees it as a double-edged sword. She cites the example of the Sjodin family.

“The Sjodins got closure, but they have to live with the details of the brutality,” Angie said. “I have always wondered if my mom died at the hands of brutality. What price would you pay to know?”

Angie has formed her own mental scenario about what happened to her mother “so I'm able to rest at night.” Her theory remains private because she doesn't want others to judge her reasoning.

“It makes me comfortable and satisfied, which is what is important,” she said.

Do they still harbor hopes that she's alive? “Every single day,” Melanie said.

More than a victim... 

They also want people to know their mother as more than a victim.

Voni was tiny at 5-foot-3, 110 pounds, but she had big blond hair and a big smile. She was an award-winning Mary Kay salesperson, but “what she wanted to be known most as was a stay-at-home mom,” Lisa said.

They remember how she cooked and cleaned every day. They remember coming home from school to find her at the telephone, making her Mary Kay calls. They remember her warmth and protective instincts. And they remember her robust laugh during carefree times.

They grieve that she wasn't able to experience milestones such as their graduations and weddings. They grieve that she wasn't able to hold their babies and offer comfort when Melanie's daughter died shortly after birth, just as Voni had lost a young son from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They regret that she wasn't there to celebrate Dustin's state high school football championship and all-state selection as a senior.

“The bottom line is that everyone loved her,” Angie said.

Angie, 31, lives in East Grand Forks with her husband and two children. Melanie Kalt, 26, also lives in East Grand Forks with her husband and is six months pregnant with their third child. Lisa Rodriguez, 23, lives in Devils Lake with her husband and two children.

Dustin, 21 and single, is attending firefighter school in Fargo.

They say the credit for getting through the tough times goes to their father, Ed Donarski, who remains a farmer in the Argyle area. He shielded them from the public eye while providing help and comfort in an unimaginable situation.

Lisa remembers the trauma of losing most of her friends soon after her mother's disappearance. At age 13, few things are as important as having friends.

“My friends didn't know what to say or what to do, so they mostly went away,” she said. “They either didn't want to deal with my pain or didn't know how.”

For dealing with such issues and providing stability, they nicknamed their father “The Rock.”

“We never saw him cry,” Lisa said. “He always said he had to be strong for the rest of us.”

The Safranski children want others to understand that their emotional pain is ongoing. But they also want people to know that they're coping and living fruitful lives.

“We've grown up to be good people and have kept on living,” Angie said. “And now is the time to say our piece.”

Bakken reports on local news and writes a column. Reach him at 780-1125, (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or rbakken@gfherald.com.
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It was a Halloween night like any other when 40-year old Argyle, Minnesota resident Veronica Safranski attended a costume party at Mick’s Bar in the nearby town of Warren. The year was 1996 and Safranski separated from her husband at the time was decked out in a Pocahontas costume.

Shortly after midnight her friend at the party was unable to locate her inside the establishment, and witnesses later reported that she was seen leaving with a man named Kevin Skjerven, a sex offender with multiple charges. The couple reportedly left together in a new model Dodge Power Wagon truck with Oregon plates. Safranski was never seen or heard from again.

She was reported missing later that day, and weeks later a belt believed to be part of her costume was found alongside a country road in the area, but an extensive search yielded no further clues of any kind. Skjerven admits to leaving the party with Veronica but claims to have no knowledge of what happened to her afterwards. No charges have ever been filed against him, and her case remains unsolved.

Even as the months turned into years, Safranski's parents continued to search the remote areas or Marshal County hoping to find some answers as to what happened to their daughter, and at the start of each hunting season the sheriff asks local hunters to be on the lookout when traversing the rural lands. In regards to finding closure for her family, Sheriff Herb Maurstad said, "You look into (Safranski's parents') eyes, and you see the agony. You don't know how they feel. There's always that glimmer of hope, that we'll find her".

Brad Hamilton for WhatCulture.com
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Halloween Tragedy Revisited In Warren, MN

WARREN, Minn. (Valley News Live) - Our Halloween weekend marked the 19th anniversary of the disappearance of Veronica Safranski, from a Warren, Minnesota bar.

Safranski’s body has never been found and no one has ever been charged in the case. This upcoming weekend may bring an opportunity for you, to reveal a break in this tragic case.

It was October 26, 1996 when Veronica Safranski of Argyle, went to a Halloween party at Mick’s Bar in Warren with a friend, dressed as Pocahontas. It’s believed the mother of four left with a man and was never seen again.

Donald & Bernice Lenhart, Safranski’s Parents, November 1996:
Bernice: “Please call us. We love you. We will help you in anyway we can. Just call us or come back to us.”
Don: “Give us a call, please. We love you.”
Bernice: “We need you.”

Safranski’s parents still live with the terrible memory of all this in Thief River Falls. And despite numerous searches over the years, Safranski’s body has never been found.

It’s a case that also still bothers those who tried to solve it.

Herb Maurstad, Retired Marshall County Sheriff: “One of the things in law enforcement that I left behind was the Vonnie Safranski case that was unsolved. I think about it pretty regular. I can about imagine what the family is still going through. So yeah, it’s one of those cases that will haunt you.”

Kevin Skjerven was questioned as a person of interest in the disappearance of Safranski, but never charged. Nine years earlier, he was convicted of criminal sexual assault in Anoka County and sentenced to 3 years in prison.

And with deer hunting season just around the corner, law enforcement officials are once again asking hunters to keep an eye out for possible remains or other clues in this case. Today’s DNA technology can quickly be a game changer in this 19-year old case.

Sheriff Jason Boman, Marshall County: “Yes, if she was found somewhere there’s always something you can test. There are all kinds of new technology out there to do this.”

It’s something for hunters to keep in mind, as they tromp through the woods of northwestern Minnesota this weekend.

The smallest piece of evidence, along with technology today, could finally lead to closure and justice for the family of Veronica Safranski. If you have any information in this case, you’re asked to call the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department at: 218-745-5411.

Sheriff Boman says they still receive new leads every once in awhile and they make sure to track down any new information they receive.

By Neil Carlson | Posted: Tue 2:45 PM, Nov 03, 2015 | Updated: Tue 5:37 PM, Nov 03, 2015
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WARREN, Minn.—On Oct. 26, 1996, Veronica "Voni" Safranski left Mick's Bar in Warren.

She never came home.

Twenty years later, culverts have been searched, hundreds of acres of forests walked by law enforcement and volunteers, and psychics debunked, but no one is any closer to knowing what happened that night.

Safranksi's oldest daughter, now Angie Pence, was 20 years old that night. She turned 21 two days later, while enrolled at UND.

"I felt like I was on autopilot," she said of the months after the disappearance.

At the time, she said she and her siblings, Melanie, Lisa and Dustin, lost many friends who didn't know what to say to them, and they battled to remain resilient and maintain hope.

"We've been such a strong family unit through it all," she said.

Pence said her father, Edmund Safranski, held the kids together in the aftermath of her mother's disappearance.

Today, Pence said she and her siblings are leading good lives. All the siblings are married. They all have three children. She moved to Billings, Mont., with her husband about a year and a half ago. They like it there. Through hard times, she said the family thinks of the white rose, a traditional symbol of reverence, love and strength that became a favorite of Safranski when her son, Bradley, died.

But her mind still wanders back to 1996, especially this week.

Over the years, she said a list of about 20 scenarios still goes through her head, each with a different explanation of what transpired that night two decades ago.

"We never got closure," Pence said.

She said the recent breakthrough in the Jacob Wetterling case picked on the scab for her sisters. After Wetterling was discovered, she said one of her sisters put up her mother's case on Facebook, imploring friends and neighbors to keep it on their mind. She said the Wetterling case scared her and brought up the conflict of wanting closure but knowing that closure likely would be sad.

"They worried and they fought and they never gave up, and now they're crushed," Pence said of the Wetterling family, saying they were mourning for the first time after discovering their son was murdered this year.

"It's a cold case, but it can still stay warm in our community," Pence said.

Still looking

At the Marshall County Sheriff's Office in Warren the case is very much alive. A poster of Safranski is on a glass window in the foyer — it's been there since 1996. Another poster offers a $15,000 reward for information leading to her location.

Through the lobby and into an old office space for deputies lie more reminders. Next to the desk of Chief Deputy John Tinnes, three large boxes are stacked, each labeled "Safranski" and full of notes and tips collected over the years. Next to the boxes, three large binders are stuffed to the brim with more of the same.

Tinnes and Sheriff Jason Boman said there are at least five more boxes in storage.

"We get tips every now and then," said Boman, who was a young deputy in 1996.

Just last week, Boman said, he got a tip that sounded promising. A man tilling a field near Argyle, where Safranski lived, called. He'd found what he thought was a moccasin in the field. Boman got excited, he said, thinking it might be something. He drove out to the farm and checked out the find, which he said turned out to be a man's shoe.

"The guy told me 'I feel dumb,'" Boman said. "But I told him not to feel dumb. If you don't call us, we won't know."

Tinnes joined the Marshall County Sheriff's Office in 1996, just a month before the disappearance. Boman had joined the office a year before. They helped search the area when the case broke out. Twenty years later, Tinnes keeps the files on the case close to his desk.

"I don't want to have it be forgotten," he said.

He said they get about one to three tips a year, and that they always look into them, but "nothing new comes of it."

"We want it solved more than anybody but the family," Tinnes said. "I can't imagine what they're going through."

One day

Pence said the worst part is feeling that somebody knows something about the case and won't come forward.

Pence feels the man who left Mick's Bar with Safranski 20 years ago is that person. There was a Halloween party at Mick's Bar that night. Safranski was dressed in a Native American costume. She left with a man in his 1977 black Dodge Power Wagon, according to authorities. That man was not charged in her disappearance. No one ever has been.

"We know he was a bad man," Pence said. "We know he was involved in her life before that."

That man is Kevin Scott Skjerven, and he was investigated and cleared by law enforcement.

He was convicted of fourth-degree sexual conduct in Minnesota in 1988 and served 22 months in prison, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

When reached by the Herald, Skjerven said the media tried to portray him as guilty, but he said he'd cooperated with law enforcement and did nothing wrong.

"She like followed me out the door," Skjerven said of Oct. 26, 1996.

He said she told him her friends had left her there.

"I just tried to help someone out," Skjerven said. "I've been doing that my whole life."

Skjerven said he didn't remember much about what happened that night when asked where the two went afterward.

Mick's Bar hasn't changed much in the 20 years since Safranski was last there. On a crisp afternoon in October, Charles Mock sits at the bar. He was at Mick's the night Safranski disappeared, too. He said the bar back then was in a horseshoe, and the pool room in the back used to be a dining room. Other than that, the place is the same.

The case remains the same, too. But that could change at any time, authorities say. One of these days that shoe in the field might lead to something, and a family's questions may be answered.

"We get all these tips, and they never seem to pan out," Tinnes said. "But one day it will."

By Andrew Hazzard on Oct 29, 2016 at 12:26 p.m.

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